News

Edwards chastises staffers for 'intolerant language' on their blogs

David Ingram and Mark Johnson
McClatchy Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the first cyber-controversy of the 2008 presidential campaign, Democrat John Edwards Thursday chastised -- but didn't fire -- two campaign bloggers whose postings had angered Catholics and conservatives.

Edwards said he was offended by the "intolerant language" of the two bloggers on their personal Web logs. The two women, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, were recently hired by his campaign.

"They have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word," Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, said in a news release. "We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked."

The dust-up illustrates the perils lurking for candidates who use the blogosphere to reach younger and more tech-savvy voters.

"It's an extension of classic opposition research to a new frontier," said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. "It points to some of the risks at having people blog on behalf of a campaign in an official capacity."

The Internet has been an important campaign tool for Edwards. He, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Cate write and post blogs. Edwards has his own profiles on MySpace and Facebook.

In her introductory post for Edwards last month, Marcotte wrote, "(W)e have the goal of making the most out of the untapped resource that is the internet."

But earlier postings by the two, some tinged with profanity, were widely described as anti-Catholic.

In June 2006, Marcotte described Catholicism as an "ancient mythology" and ridiculed the belief, held by Catholics, that Jesus was divinely conceived. In November 2006, McEwen described President Bush's supporters as his "wingnut Christofascist base."

In statements released Thursday, Marcotte and McEwan expressed support for religious freedom. The Edwards campaign also said it did not know of the earlier comments, prior to hiring the bloggers.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, which represents conservative Catholics, called for Edwards to fire the bloggers Tuesday.

"John Edwards is a decent man who has had his campaign tarnished by two anti-Catholic vulgar, trash-talking bigots. He has no choice but to fire them immediately," Donohue, who has himself been accused of religious intolerance, wrote on his Web site.

According to the liberal Web site MediaMatters.org, Donohue said on MSNBC in December 2004, "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it."

Liberal bloggers were quick to blame their conservative counterparts for enflaming the latest controversy.

"It didn't take long for the Edwards campaign to get schooled on Swift Boating," Pam Spaulding wrote on BlueNC.

Phil Noble, founder of the nonpartisan, Charleston, N.C.-based PoliticsOnline, said campaigns are still learning the ropes of Internet politics.

"We have a new technology that's disrupting the whole political process," he said, "and we haven't figured out what the rules are. We had the same thing with television and with radio."

Edwards has always prided himself for staying "on message." His earlier campaigns have been virtually gaffe-free. Palfrey, of the Harvard Center, said bloggers challenge that control.

"(It's) the unedited voice of a single person -- that's a pure classic blog," he said. "All of a sudden the words of those bloggers become potential campaign issues."

Experts say campaigns can expect more such controversies.

Said Noble: "We're at 10 o'clock in the morning on the first day of the Internet revolution."

___

THE BLOGGERS

Amanda Marcotte

Who she is: West Texas native, 29. Lived in Austin and wrote for liberal blog Pandagon before signing on with Edwards last month. From her bio: "Amanda settled for selling her soul to blogging when Satan confessed that even he had not the powers to turn her into the second coming of Diana Ross."

Sample blog entries

"What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit . . . You'd have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology." (2006)

The Duke lacrosse incident: "Even with the caveat that there's a slim chance a rape didn't happen, it's clear that the lacrosse team members did something to scare the s--- out (of) those women and that shared fantasizing about violence against women was part of the fun." (2006)

Melissa Mcewan

Who she is: "Shakespeare's Sister" blogger.

Sample blog entries

On Edwards: "I pictured what it would be like to have a president who was quick to smile and to laugh after these six long years of a petulant, sniveling leader with pretenses of dictatorship. John Edwards would be like stumbling out into the sunshine after a very long internment in a dank and light-starved dungeon. I long for that sunshine." (2006)

On conservative Christians: "What don't you lousy motherf----ers understand about keeping your noses out of our britches, our beds, and our families?" (2006)

___

(Charlotte Observer staff writer Jim Morrill contributed to this report.)

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